Electronic media is changing the way families interact, but the Canadian family is still as strong as ever, said Jennifer Tipper, a visiting researcher from the Ottawa-based Vanier Institute of the Family.
“Family has always been one of the most flexible structures, it has always been quick to adapt to new changes,” said Tipper.
In 1998, only 20 per cent of Canadian households had internet access. By 2003, the tally stood at 64 per cent.
The average Canadian household has 26 electronic media devices ranging from cellphones, televisions, computers and mobile radio communication systems.
With the shock and awe accompanying these new technological developments, critics have worried youth may be suffering irreparable social and literacy damage.
Concerns have often been raised that the use of cellphone text messaging abbreviations such as LOL (laughing out loud) and TTYL (talk to you later) were eroding the written grammar of modern students.
However, data has shown humans can easily operate under parallel forms of communication styles, said Tipper.
Even while a person’s written language may be condensed for the sake of text messaging, it has no effect on the language they may use to write an essay or a formal letter, she said.
Increased internet usage among youth has often been branded a potential social barrier.
As more youth take to cyberspace, critics worry they are neglecting critical face-to-face interaction.
Tipper cited a study where internet access was only provided to one half of a new housing subdivision.
At the end of a test period, it was found that those with internet had actually engaged in much stronger community engagement.
“The internet has this incredible capacity to build communities,” said Tipper.
The same goes for cellphones.
“We all carry a cellphone, but we haven’t all gone socially underground,” she said.
For those that don’t or can’t fit in within traditional social circles, the internet can also be a valuable tool for critical social interaction, said Tipper.
Of course, increased electronic media usage is not without risk.
Unwanted exposure to undesirable information, as well as an increasingly sedentary lifestyle are all factors that need to be managed as part of the new “media explosion.”
Fifty per cent of young people currently surf the internet without any form of supervision, said Tipper.
Historically, parents have had strict control over their children’s access to information, something that is being changed by the internet, said Tipper.
The Vanier Institute of the Family is a national charitable organization devoted to “taking information and putting a family lens on it.”
The institute examines, in depth, changing social trends to see what effect they’re having on Canadian families.
The composition of families may be changing, but the Vanier institute is not interested in what “a family looks like.”
It is more concerned with “what it does.”
Tipper was in Whitehorse briefly before speaking at a conference in Edmonton, Alberta.
She spoke at various locations throughout Whitehorse, including morning classes at Vanier Catholic Secondary School, the department of Education and a meeting of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.